Upcoming Movies: ‘Arrival’, ‘La La Land’
Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Arrival’ is big-budget SF that starts pretty much where ‘Close Encounters’ ended. The first five minutes establishes that 12 gigantic space vessels have appeared around the earth, and we now have to figure out how to contact them without getting our heads blown off. Why have they come here – and why land in Devon? As one scientist says; ‘Why those places? All we can find to link them is they all have low light intensity and Sheena Easton had hits in every location.’ Amy Adams is comparative linguist Louise Banks, who finds herself, along with Jeremy Renner, in a select team chosen to attempt communication with the aliens.
But how do you communicate when you have to understand a language that has not originated on earth? It’s a theme first explored in ‘The Arrival of Wang’, an Italian movie in which an alien has arrived who has learned Mandarin but lands in a small town in Italy.
There are two ways of taking such a tale; the arthouse approach gets you to ‘Solaris’, ‘Moon’ and the like, and the action genre leads you to big dumb violent movies like ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Dark Skies’. Miraculously Villeneuve’s first-contact drama guides a skilful line between the approaches as we follow the pair attempting to decode alien communication before the rest of the world starts firing first – not America, you understand, because obviously they never would.
Just how that linguistic battle unfolds is the meat of a dreamlike story (making it a futuristic version of ‘The Imitation Game’), and it involves Louise’s memories of love and loss, but mercifully not in ‘the-universe-is-in-the-back-of-my-daughter’s-cupboard approach tackled by Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’. This is thoughtful, humanistic SF for Hollywood’s autumn ‘grown-up movies’ season, without the technobabble.
You’ll hear a lot of wonderful things about ‘La La Land’ in the weeks to come, but calling it a musical is a bit of a cheat. The first ten minutes sets you up for a primary-coloured ‘Singing’ In The Rain’ extravaganza with a sequence on a freeway that will be talked about for years and ripped off by advertising ‘creatives’ within weeks. But soon after that the film settles down to a more low-key take on the couple-with-different agendas love story we’ve seen in Scorsese’s ‘New York, New York’ and Coppola’s ‘One From The Heart’. In this respect is more like a romantic drama with music than the film it most wants to be; ‘Les Parapluies De Cherbourg’.
The main difference is that this lovelorn couple are comfortably off, with time a-plenty to think about their lifestyle choices, whereas Catherine Deneuve worked in her mother’s shop while her lover went to war.
So what keeps the pair apart? Jazz is at the heart of things again, as in director Damien Chazelle’s ‘Whiplash’. This time the cypher-like Ryan Gosling (who seems to have been born without a sense of humour) and almost too expressive Emma Stone are the mismatched pair. He loves jazz, she hates it, and success tears them in different directions. However, lifting the film to a higher level are the spikily smart script, the real chemistry between Stone and Gosling and the very appealing (new) music.
There are too many sequences of moody Gosling tickling the ivories under a smoky spotlight, but the film rallies for a late musical masterstroke at the close, a smash-volley of a rewind that, if you have any heart at all, will leave you sobbing like a big girl’s blouse. It turns out there’s a future for the film musical after all, the solution being to take advise from Chazelle’s script;
STONE: ‘What if people don’t like it?’
GOSLING: ‘Fuck ’em.’